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Exploitation and Interference in French Thought and Culture


Matt Phillips and Tomas Weber

The word «parasite» evokes nearness and feeding: the Greek parasitos is «one who eats at the table of another». In biology, a parasitic organism is the beneficiary of an unequal relation with its host. The social parasite, too, is one recognized or misrecognized as the unproductive recipient of one-way exchange. In communications theory, meanwhile, static or interference («parasite», in French) is the useless information which clouds the channel between sender and receiver.

In 1980, Michel Serres’s Le Parasite mobilized the concept of the parasite to figure noises, disruptions, destructions and breakdowns at the heart of communication systems, social structures and human relations. Drawing on Serres’s work, the chapters of this volume – organized around two conceptual poles, exploitation and interference – examine French literature (Villiers de l’Isle Adam, Proust, contemporary poetry), film (Nicolas Philibert, Claus Drexel), art (Sophie Calle, contemporary «glitch art») and philosophy (Descartes, Serres, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari), alongside medieval hagiography, immunology, communications theory and linguistic anthropology. The volume thereby demonstrates the new and continued relevance of the figure of the parasite in thinking about transmission, attachment, use, abuse and dependency.

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Introduction (Tomas Weber)


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In the midst of the Vichy regime the poet Aimé Césaire sensed an opportunity to create an authentic and tangible form of humanism, from the vantage point of a newly renewed Antillean culture, that would be distinct from the phony humanism exemplified by colonialism. Announcing this project in the first edition of the magazine Tropiques [Tropics] which he founded with Suzanne Césaire together with René Ménil in 1941, he declared that ‘il n’est plus temps de parasiter le monde. C’est de le sauver qu’il s’agit’ [the time for parasiting the world is over. It’s now a question of saving it].1 With this image of the parasite Césaire constructs a scene in which an intruder (the island of Martinique) feeds off and depends upon a pre-existing autonomous entity (the world). For Césaire, in denying the island political and cultural self-determination colonial France forced Martinique into the position of a parasite which feeds, not just off France but, lacking a sense of its own cultural identity, off the entire world. Colonization creates parasites, a notion which emerges in both left and right political discourses. But colonization is, of course, parasitic in another, more primary sense. Though it may create dependencies on the colonizer state it also involves the parasitic consumption of the resources and labour of the colonized. When Frantz Fanon claimed that ‘l’Europe est littéralement la création du tiers monde’ [Europe is...

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